My alarm crept into my dreams and rattled me awake. It was 5:30am and still mostly dark but I could see a small crest of light in-between the majestic mountain peaks of Glacier National Park out my window. It was early but the huckleberries were ripe and with that same anticipation I shook off the sleep, grabbed a mug of coffee and piled into the truck.
The Flathead Valley was hazy from forest fire smoke lending to a spectacular sunrise spectrum of deep reds, burnt orange, and bright pinks as we headed to our secret spot for huckleberry hunting. We pulled off to the side of the dirt road and scurried into our precious patch armed with bear spray. The giant furry creatures like to snack on the delicious treat too. Huckleberries are slightly smaller than blueberries and a little more tart and native to the northwest forests of North America. The berries were everywhere and much larger than ones I had picked in the past. I managed to pluck about a half gallon in 2 hours. I may have walked away with more had I not kept popping the sweet, delightfully earthy and juicy berries into my mouth.
Glacier is one of those places that makes a lasting impression. The combination of towering mountain cliffs, wistful wildflowers, round smooth colorful rock beaches of the teal blue rivers and lakes are unlike anywhere else I have ever been. As a kid I spent many summer nights skipping the flat maroon, cobalt, and emerald colored rocks across the various waters of the area. My grandparents lived next to the Flathead river near the west entrance to the park in the appropriately named West Glacier, Montana. No trip was complete until we had visited Apgar Village for lunch at Eddies followed by huckleberry ice cream cones. The cute little village is just inside the west entrance to the park and nestled right up to the scenic Lake McDonald.
My bestie Emily drove up to camp with me for a few days and we settled in to San-Suz-Ed a quiet quaint RV park and campground near West Glacier. We quickly set up camp and rushed off to explore the park. It was fairly warm and Lake McDonald was calling our names. Slathering on sunscreen all around our swimsuits we sank into the lake. The water was cool, clear and refreshing. We noticed a few folks testing out the stand-up paddle boards and curiosity captured us. This is something we have got to try! Turns out is was only $10 an hour to rent and was the best decision we could have made.
I carefully perched on my paddleboard perplexed as to how to go about operating such a vessel with the only instructions being to not dig your paddle into the rocks and to stay within a certain distance of the shore. Wobbly and weary I managed to stand up and push off toward the mountains. It is harder than it looks and as Emily went to say something to me promptly lost her concentration and plummeted into the water. I giggled(yeah I am that friend) and gleefully paddled over to see what she had wanted to say. She had the bright idea that it may be easier to control the board if we took our sandals off. She was brilliant! With much more ease we explored the lake feeling like gods gliding over the top of the crystal blue water.
We rewarded our efforts after an hour with huckleberry ice cream of course and plotted where to go next. Having never explored the area opposite of the Going-to-Sun-Road we set out to go see what it was all about. The trees stuck out like toothpicks with lush underbrush and pops of purple from the wildflowers. We struck dirt road and continued to drive being tossed about for 30 minutes when we finally see a few western style buildings up ahead. Tucked away in the park is the “town” of Polebridge with a mercantile, cafe, bar, and motel with surrounding areas to camp. Though this intrigued us we continued on in search of new glacial lakes. After another 45 minutes of bumpy dirt roads we come to Bowman Lake. It was windy and a lot cooler here but the scene did not disappoint. The lake is perfectly framed by glacial mountains. The crisp mountain air filled our lungs and along with the view it brought a feeling of calm and contentment.
Tired and hungry we set a course back to camp. With a camp fire ban in place I boiled some water with my backpacking camp stove and rehydrated some chicken and rice mountain house meal. It was actually pretty good and Emily strummed her guitar and sang. Her voice swept through camp like the breeze amongst the pine trees and they swayed dancing in the evening light. That is the nature of Glacier, where everything is magical and you are always dreaming of the next time you’ll come back.